Dietary Nitrate to Support Performance – Focus on Beetroot juice
Dietary nitrate supplementation may have positive effects on an athlete’s physical response to exercise.¹ Increased intakes of food or beverages containing nitrates may help to reduce the energy costs of exercise, positively impact muscle contraction, and improve athletic performance. Once ingested, the dietary nitrate is converted, with the help of oral bacteria, to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide acts to widen blood vessels which allows blood, oxygen and nutrients to be more efficiently delivered to muscles.²
One of the more popular forms of supplementation is commercially made beetroot juice (i.e. Beet-It), but athletes can also increase dietary nitrate by eating beets or other nitrate rich vegetables such as rocket lettuce, spinach, bok choy, broccoli, and radishes. It is also possible to make your own beetroot juice at home with a juicer.
Which type of athletes would benefit the most from supplementation is still an area under investigation; however, there is some evidence that increasing dietary nitrates might have performance benefits for endurance athletes like runners, triathletes and cyclists. There may also be some benefit for individuals competing or training at high altitude (low oxygen environment).² Additional research is also required to determine optimal doses and timing; however, it has been suggested that about 300-500mg of nitrate (in the form of beetroot juice or other) may have the greatest impact on performance.²ʼ³ Commercially available beetroot juice concentrate can be taken up to 2 hours prior to exercise for immediate benefits.ᶟ
Mild intestinal discomfort has been reported in some athletes (large volume of fluids, increase in fibre – if having beets in their whole form). These symptoms may be reported more frequently in those with a medical history of irritable bowel disease.² Individuals interested in trying beetroot juice or increasing foods naturally containing nitrates who have a history of GI intolerance or who wish to use this product prior to an athletic event may wish to use a concentrated form like Beet-It shots.¹ Beetroot juice may also make your urine or stool pink, but this is harmless.²
*Athletes hoping to reap the benefits of beetroot juice should avoid using mouthwash or gum as they may reduce oral bacteria, essential for the conversion of nitrate to nitric oxide.²
** Wondering what nitrates are? See this link to Eat Right Ontario to learn “The Truth About Nitrates”: https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Food-technology/Biotechnology/Novel-foods/The-truth-about-nitrates.aspx
Roasted Beet Hummus
Makes about 2 cups of hummus
1 19oz can no added sodium chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup tahini
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium beet, peeled and roasted
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
- To roast beet: preheat oven to 375F, then rub the beet with oil and wrap in tin foil. Roast for about an hour or until beet is tender. Allow to cool and peel off skin.
- Place all ingredients (excluding olive oil) in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.
- Adjust seasonings.
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- Serve with whole grain crackers or pita and vegetables.
- Wylie LJ, Kelly J, Bailey SJ, Blackwell JR, Skiba PF, Winyard PG, et al. Beetroot juice and exercise: pharmacodynamic and dose-response relationships. J Appl Physiol. 2013;115(3):325-336. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00372.2013
- Nitrate (Beetroot Juice). Sports Dietitians Website. https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/factsheets/supplements/beetroot-juice-nitrate/. Published 2015. Accessed October 24, 2015.
- Sports Dietitians Website. https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/120411-Nitrates.pdf. Published 2015. Accessed February 24, 2016.